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Using Essential Oils To Help Your Hives

Did you know that using herbs for medicine was once considered witchcraft?

It is true! During the 17th Century they literally handed out tips as to how to spot if your neighbor was a witch. If you used herbs or natural oils you were thought to be mixing potions and could easily be accused of witchcraft.

Doesn’t that make you happy that we have progressed passed that? Because now we have essential oils on shelves nearly everywhere we look.

And that is awesome that they are so easily accessible because they serve so many uses…even for our bees.

So I want to share with you the essential oils that can help your hives maintain good health and also fight some of the most common ailments among honeybee hives.

Can essential oils help my hive fight varroa mites?

If you are not familiar with Varroa Mites let me give you a short introductory to these pesky little things. Basically, Varroa Mites are little bugs that attack your honeybees and brood. They actually suck their blood and cause death due to blood loss.

So if you have mites around your hives it certainly isn’t a good thing.

But are you a little skittish of using heavy duty chemicals around your hive? Perhaps you read our article about treatment-free beekeeping. Well, that’s okay. Because now you have options.

The first oil that is recommended to help fight mites is thyme oil. The main ingredient in thyme oil is thymol. This actually confuses the mites.

So if you use a screen bottom board along with the thyme oil it will ultimately cause the mites to become foggy-headed.

Then they will fall through the screen bottom board and not be able to climb back up to enter the hive. Pretty neat, huh?

There are other oils that will battle Varroa Mites as well. They are:

  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Wintergreen oil
  • Cinnamon oil
  • Neem oil
  • Garlic oil
  • Rosemary oil
  • Oregano oil
  • Sage oil
  • Spearmint oil

So if you are having a mite problem or just want to do some early protection, then these oils might be able to help you with that.

Can essential oils help my bees maintain overall good health?

You can bet a dollar to a donut that essential oils can help your bees live a healthier life.

Just so you know upfront, my husband and I are not strictly organic beekeepers. However, we do like to try different approaches to solve different problems. Since essential oils are supposed to be the natural option (and aren’t very expensive) if we can use them in our hives we will.

But one of my favorite oils for overall bee health is Lemongrass oil and we use a lot. The reason is because it is great for treatment within the hive itself.

It can also be used in swarm traps. We use it inside our bait boxes by adding a q-tip with a dab of lemongrass oil on it. Then bees will come from all over to see what is going on. This is because lemongrass oil mimics the honeybee pheromone that obviously attracts other bees.

I can say from personal experience, if you put lemongrass oil inside a swarm trap you will have bees that show up. You won’t always get to keep them, but they will come to check it out.

But lemongrass oil is good for more than just baiting swarms and treating your hive. It is also good at supplementing certain nutritional needs that honeybees have. We actually make our own honeybee health from scratch. Lemongrass oil is a part of that mixture every time because of the health benefits it is supposed to bring to our hives.

Now, I will warn of the one drawback to using lemongrass oil. It is probably not the best idea to use it on a weaker hive. This is because it does mimic a honey bee’s attractant pheromone and you are likely to draw robber bees. That is never good!

So just keep that tip in mind while you experiment with lemongrass oil and your honeybees.

What about American Foul Brood?

I am so thankful that I have never actually had to come in contact with American Foul Brood. I have heard lots of nasty things about it.

And most people tell me that when you come in contact with it you need to simply burn any bee equipment that came in contact with it too.

However, I was pleased to find that there are certain essential oils that can help to keep American Foul Brood at bay.

Since it is nothing I want to come in contact with, I’m seriously considering adding it to my mixture of essential oil treatments.

So cumin oil, lavender oil, and winter savory oil are supposed to be great oils to help battle AFB and protect your hives. To me, that is a welcome minimal investment to protect the hives we have from such a disease, but also to protect my beekeeping neighbors’ hives as well.

As always if you come in contact with AFB please be sure to report it so those keeping bees around you will be aware and watching for it in their hives.

So how do I administer essential oils to my bees?

Well, I’m glad you asked. This doesn’t have to be complicated. You actually have three options.

1. Administer through a syrup

You will make a 1:1 mixture of sugar syrup that can be fed through a regular hive feeder. The same way you would add your store bought honeybee health, you’ll do the same with your homemade or just a splash of essential oils.

When we feed our hives, my husband makes a big batch of honeybee health in a half gallon mason jar.

Then he mixes a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water for the syrup. Before he carries it out to the hives, he puts a few splashes of our homemade mixture (which includes lemongrass essential oils) into the syrup.

And I have to say our hives love it and have done very well this year.

2. Administer through patties

As you may know, you can buy winter sugar patties. They are meant to be laid on the frames above the brood.

When you add them over winter that is the bees’ food to survive.

But you can feed them like that throughout the rest of the year too, if you choose. Just make sure that you put a few splashes of essential oils on the patties.

Or if you make them homemade, add essential oils into the mixture.

3. Add it when working in your hives

Some people spray their bees with sugar water when working in them instead of using a smoker. The trick is, instead of driving your bees out of the hive while working with them, the sugar water just distracts them.

See, bees are very organized little creatures. They like to be clean.

So when you spray them with this water mixture they immediately go to town licking themselves clean again. Why not add the essential oils to the mix that way too? They will certainly ingest it as they’ll be busy keeping themselves cleaned up.

So now that you know what essential oils can help your bees, we’d love to hear your thoughts.

Have you come across any other uses for essential oils in your hives? What is your favorite essential oil?

Please leave your comments below. We look forward to hearing from you!

8 comments on “Using Essential Oils To Help Your Hives”

  1. I have yellow jackets robbing my hives big-time. at this time of year, they’re interested in the honey, carbohydrates. I’ve been reading Yellow Jackets don’t not like eucalyptus, spearmint, and thyme so I’m wondering how I can use these essential oil‘s to detour the yellow jackets and not affect my bees

  2. Just remember neat eucalyptus oil is strong stuff. I use it to remove enamel paints. It will strip varnish too. Also I would suggest if you have many of these plants around your garden, bees will self serve and medicate as they need it. I'm not saying don't use essential oils for pest control, but from a dietary and nutrition/ immune perspective (nutrition and immunity inseparably interrelated), remember bees mine plants for resins and oils that they use in propolis and this is marvelous antibacterial and otherwise awesome stuff. Classic case of bees creating their own world. Think about the aromatic honeys also. Bees are master chemists, they have their own intelligence to know whats good for them. Same way I've observed my cooks for hours on end and there' no way a human could hope to emulate the diversity or the unseen balance in what they instinctively forage I've planted up my half acre block with bee foods. I love my soils with well balanced, luxury mineral levels. Good soils make good plants make good honeybee nutrition. It's not enough to meet all of their need but maybe this small amount of top nutrition will be the edge they need. I will say one last thought on the balance between environment and genetics. I once had super tasty tomatoes, I'd been saving seed for years ( with no cross pollination), gave some to guy at work who put them in pine bark and white sand potting mix, and chemical salts fertilizer. It was the most tasteless thing I've ever had. Genetics are important, but they need the tools to wield. Selecting queen and supplementing feed are important, but don't forget good soils give a way superior food than what we can manufacture.

  3. A few drops of essential oils on some dried spearmint leaves, lavender and wormwood (absinthe) tucked into a sachet will keep your supers moth and rodent free when they're stored over the winter. Just place the sachet on top of the frames in a stack of supers and seal the stack with a lid on top and seal the bottom as well). Use 1-2 sachets for every 5 medium supers. The essential oils you use can mimic your dried ingredients (spearmint oil, lavender oil and wormwood oil) or you can add others like rosemary and thyme oil. Unlike using mothballs to repel these pests in your stored supers/frames, you don't need to air them out for days before using them come spring. Also, no nasty chemical residue will get into the comb.

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